Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
06 Nov 2005
Sorry about the lack of a mailbag this week. I've been quite busy with extra writing and wasn't able to catch up with my e-mail. We'll have a big one next Friday.
As many of you know, we've got a crew of volunteers charting every game to create statistics that are otherwise not publicly available. FO asked if the charters wanted to give their thoughts about what they've seen so far this year, and a few people responded. Think of this as a bit of a companion piece to Michael David Smith's Every Team Counts. Three things to note:
-- Aaron Schatz
1. Detroit's offense does not threaten the field vertically. Their receivers don't get separation and the quarterbacks don't seem to have even average accuracy on deep passes. As a result teams crowd the line of scrimmage and blitz frequently against them without any penalty. This seems to be a big part of the running game problem.
2. Detroit does not seem to blitz much (certainly less than their opponents and I'd guess much less than average). But they get decent pressure from their four linemen and opposing quarterbacks don't typically have a long time to throw.
3. Dre' Bly sits on intermediate routes. He tends to play well off his man and can be exploited for short passes (Carolina did this a bunch) but he closes quickly to limit the yardage. He jumps the intermediate routes really well.
4. Kenoy Kennedy is very aggressive and hits hard. He can make some big plays but his tendency to move forward can be exploited for some equally big plays. (Tampa Bay did this.)
I don't have much in the way of general thoughts, but here are two things that have stood out to me. First, Brian Westbrook is very good at picking up the blitz. I've only seen one instance where he missed his block, and that was on a defensive end. Second, I'm really concerned about the Eagles' screen passes this year. My previous impression has always been that it was one of their best plays with Westbrook, but this year the blocking just seems bad. On almost every occasion, Westbrook is tackled for a short gain by the first or second defender that comes after him, someone who should have been blocked by the O-linemen ahead of him. I've seem them run right by defenders instead of blocking them, and I've seen the defenders shrug off the blocks pretty easily. Maybe on some of these screens, Westbrook should be able to make one guy miss, but there are situations where he just has no chance due to the bad blocking.
Comments about some N.Y. Giants players:
General comments after charting four Giants games, plus PIT-NE and DAL-PHI: in Giants games, it seems there is a lot less quarterback hitting, effective blitzing, and chaos than there is in other games -- on both sides of the ball. The Giants' linebackers blitz a lot, but don't seem that effective. Meanwhile, their line must pick up blitzes better than other teams. Philadelphia couldn't seem to handle Dallas's defense at all, whereas the Giants seemed to be handling it better, at least in terms of sacks and hurries. Compared to the PIT-NE game, Giants games have been completely devoid of hits, particularly their game against St. Louis.
On the Dolphins' offensive line, RT Stockar McDougle and RT Vernon Carey have looked about the same as last year, though Carey does show more potential -- he has made plays where he completely takes over his defender. LT Damion McIntosh is completely dominated by speed rushers, but fares pretty well on the running game. Since the Dolphins are running a somewhat balanced offense, he looks terrible. Perhaps the return of Ricky Williams will change that. RG Rex Hadnot looks so much better than Taylor Whitley ever did, even if he gets pushed around by the bigger tackles (Sam Adams comes to mind, though that guy will run over anybody). In pass protection he holds his own, but he distinguishes himself in the running game. He's not a mauler, but he can open up some room. James has been low-key, which is a good thing I guess. And C Seth McKinney shows improvement, both on strength and technique. Overall, Carey, Hadnot and McKinney have shown what I like -- a "never give up" instinct, following the play for as long as they can. The others show flashes, but not a constant effort ... or maybe they're just plain slow, who knows. But those three have really made their mark on me because of that.
Gus Frerotte is playing worlds better than I expected him to. His passes are accurate most of the time, and he has a tendency to wait for the play to develop, rather than giving up too quickly, even if it's cost him some pretty nasty hits.
Chris Chambers may be overrated. Chambers will drop the easy passes, then, inexplicably, make a catch he shouldn't have made.
Miami's defense likes to send pressure from different places, even if it's not a blitz per se. Corner pressure, two linebackers, a lineman and a corner ... it's refreshing, actually. Not much safety help on pass pressure, though; they seem to play back to help the cornerbacks. Travis Daniels has been helped tremendously; he has Lance Schulters on his side for most of the passing plays where he's assigned man coverage.
Jason Taylor is not getting a lot of double teams overall, and Zach Thomas is getting tremendous support from his defensive line. No excuses, boys.
LB Channing Crowder looks like a rookie with potential. Rookie, because he will make the stupid mistakes. Shows potential, not only because of physical skills (he has speed, size, strength) but because he also has that "never give up" quality.
DE Matt Roth is a long term project, a kid with the skills, but a lot of misguided anger inside of him. He would've been great in another era, but now, he must learn to channel that ... ummm ... enthusiasm.
Random thoughts about other teams:
A more general observation: On running plays, it usually takes a team effort for the offense to succeed, but an individual defender can bail out his whole team. And that individual defender is often a cornerback. Which means, I'm afraid, that charting Adjusted Line Yards by direction still doesn't tell us a whole lot about individual linemen. Sometimes every offensive lineman can block his guy into next week, but a wide receiver, tight end, or fullback will miss his block and the running back will be tackled in the backfield. It's the opposite on passing plays. Every defender must maintain coverage. Only one receiver needs to get open.
It is interesting to see different defensive philosophies. The Bears run an attacking defense in which defensive linemen attack their gaps aggressively with the intention of trying to get upfield. Tommie Harris is probably the most talented lineman but Ian Scott is also playing very well. The defensive ends have also been very effective playing the run. Behind them, the linebackers are a very active unit who are sent on blitzes frequently, with Brian Urlacher as one of the best blitzing linebackers in the NFL. Lance Briggs complements Urlacher's flash with his hard hitting and sure tackling. Remember when Briggs knocked Patrick Ramsey out of the game? It was a vicious hit. The safeties are both good tacklers and Chris Harris is much better against the run than the pass. Mike Brown is an elite NFL safety. The only thing that he needs to improve on is playing the deep ball, which is probably the most negative thing about the Bears defense. The corners are both ballhawks who can be very physical. Nathan Vasher has had some really impressive games and I am in love with Charles Tillman. However, these two have both been beat deep this season. (I remember the Browns game when Trent Dilfer burned Chicago for two long completions.)
In contrast to the aggressive attacking style of the Bears and Eagles defenses, the Patriots and the Washington Redskins play a more disciplined, gap control defense. While the Patriots have been getting gashed this year, I attribute this to the new players being thrown into the defense due to injury and to the loss of players in the off-season. The Patriots defense is at its best when every player understands his role and simply fills his hole on the run and covers his zone. The attacking defense favors fast and aggressive defenders while the disciplined defense favors intelligent and tough players. This could be why LaVar Arrington is warming the bench over in Washington while his physical skills would be much welcomed in Chicago.
19 comments, Last at 18 Nov 2005, 6:23am by Vince